MANILA, Philippines—Decades before Skype, Facetime, and Zoom existed, there was a Filipino invention called the “two-way TV phone,” then considered far ahead of its time.
Video calling, defined as a call made through a device with a camera and a screen, which allows participants to see each other while talking, has become very common in the 21st century as technology continues to improve, leading to the invention of more and better devices. and social media platforms and apps.
However, long before the start of the digital age, the concept of a video call or conference call used to exist only in science fiction (sci-fi) stories.
This was until a Filipino engineer and physicist, Gregorio Y. Zara, brought this concept from science fiction books and comics to life by inventing the first videophone or two-way television phone in the mid-1950s.
According to the National Academy of Science and Technology of the Philippines (NAST), Zara invented the device that “makes it possible for two people to see each other on a television while talking on the phone since 1954.”
In 1955, Zara patented this device as a “photographic telephone signal separator network”.
ahead of its time
Zara’s two-way TV phone processes voice and video signals in real time and sends them over data-based connections. The signals are transmitted individually and merged with a short 120 second delay on the receiving line.
Unfortunately, Zara’s videophone did not make it to the commercial market. While there’s no apparent reason why it didn’t catch on, an online article pointed out that the separate proprietary photo phone signal network wasn’t even intended as a commercial product.
Still, because of his invention that laid the foundation for video conferencing, Zara was considered by some to be the “father of video conferencing.”
In the 1060s, AT&T, a US-based multinational telecommunications company, began work on the Picturephone, which, like the videophone, combines the telephone and television.
Although the Picturephone was released commercially, it did not fare well as it was found to be too expensive.
The videophone began to become popular during the early years of the digital age or around the late 1990s. It was initially popularized as a device to assist the hearing impaired.
In recent decades, the videophone has seen a lot of innovation and development. Eventually, devices like smartphones, desktop computers, laptops, and bypasses like Skype and Zoom have become accessible to the public, allowing more people to use and experience video conferencing.
Renowned Engineer, Physicist
A renowned engineer and physicist, Zara was known for more than just inventing an early version of the videophone. Throughout his life, he held patents for 30 devices and equipment.
Among his notable inventions are a solar power battery, a solar water heater (SolarSorber), and a stove in the 1960s; a propeller mower in 1952; the earth induction compass; and in 1952 an airplane engine that ran on pure alcohol as fuel.
He also designed a microscope with a folding stage and the Marex X-10, a robot that could walk, talk, and respond to commands.
Zara was also recognized for his discovery of a law of electrical kinetic resistance known as the “Zara effect”, defined as “the resistance to the passage of electric current when the contacts are in motion. Permanent electrical resistance manifests itself when the contacts are at rest.
Aside from his contribution to science, he was also a well-known educator. Zara served as an aeronautics instructor at the Valeriano Aviation School, the American Far East Aviation School, and Far Eastern University.
“At FEATI University, he started as a professor of aeronautics before becoming head of the Department of Aeronautical Engineering,” said Project Vinta, a program of non-governmental youth organization Project Saysay Inc.
“Eventually he became its dean of Engineering and Technology and director of research. In 1946, he was elected executive vice president of the university. A decade later, he served as interim president,” Project Vinta said.
Zara wrote numerous articles and textbooks on science and physics, some of which were written in French. For a time, she also held various government positions.
“He was appointed technical assistant in aeronautical matters in the office of the Secretary of the Department of Public Works and Communications [on] his return to the Philippines. He [eventually] he became head of their aeronautics division,” Project Vinta said.
“Later, he served as deputy director and chief aeronautical engineer in the Aeronautics Bureau of the Department of National Defense. He was also a director of the aeronautical board for more than two decades,” he said.
With his various jobs and his extensive experience as an engineer and scientist, Zara received countless recognitions and awards. Among the many accolades of him were:
- 1959: Presidential Diploma of Merit and Distinguished Service Medal for pioneering work and achievements in solar power, aeronautics, and television.
- 1966: Presidential Gold Medal and Honorary Diploma in Science and Research.
- 1966: Award for Cultural Heritage of Scientific Education and Aeronautical Engineering
In 1978, he was awarded the National Scientific Award, the highest award given to Filipino scientists by the Philippine government. Zara was one of the first three scientists to receive this award.
Zara died on October 15, 1978. According to Project Vinta, he was given a state funeral before being buried at Libingan ng mga Bayani.
Years after his death, several awards have been named in his honor.
“In 1968, Zara’s family and the Philippine Association for the Advancement of Science (now the Philippine Association for the Advancement of Science and Technology) established the Gregorio Y. Zara Award, which honors Filipino scientists and researchers with notable contributions in basic scientific research and Research in Applied Sciences”, pointed out the Vinta Project.
“The National Academy of Science and Technology annually awards the Gregorio Y. Zara Medal (also known as National Science and Technology Week – Outstanding Technology Commercialization Award) to technology generators and developers whose technologies have been commercialized,” he added. .
Did you know: Gregorio Zara
IN THE KNOW: national scientist
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